Boating is a favorite activity among South Carolinians. Often, boaters enjoy drinking when they are on the water or a sandbar. It’s important to know the law when it comes to drinking and boating. There are many regulations on the waterways. Among the important laws to understand are BUI, Felony BUI, and Reckless Homicide by Boat.
According to law enforcement, alcohol is a major cause of accidents and death on South Carolina waterways.
Boating Under the Influence
Drinking and Boating
Driving a boat is like driving a car – the difference is you don’t have to have a driver’s license on the waterway. Still, rules and laws apply. If you are involved in a “safety check” and found to be impaired by drugs or alcohol, the officer can arrest the driver for boating under the influence (BUI).
Law enforcement can board your boat for any reason. They don’t need probable cause on the water, they can just conduct a safety check. These officers are usually Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officers.
The officer must prove the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol in order to convict a boat driver of BUI. That means the driver was “materially and appreciably impaired” and should not have been operating a boat.
How To Prove BUI
The arresting officer or DNR agent has several tactics available to prove a boat operator is impaired beyond the legal limit. First, the officer can use the circumstances and behavior of the boat driver. For instance, if there are two people on a boat and both are slurring words and there are 30 empty beer cans in the cooler, then the officer might have the requisite proof the boat driver is too drunk to safely operate the boat.
Secondly, the officer can offer a field sobriety test. This can include the “pen test,” which requires the suspect to watch the pen while the officer analyzes the suspects eyes. The officer can also ask the suspect to touch his or her nose or other coordination type tests. Any of these tests can be used to determine if the boat driver was “materially and appreciably impaired” while operating the boat.
Lastly, the officer can administer a breathalyzer test or ask the suspect to blow into the breath test machine. This is usually done at the police station after an arrest. See blow or not and how does the breathalyzer work? You can deny the test, however, your boating privileges will be suspended for 180 days. Additionally, the prosecution will argue you refused because you were drunk. If your blood-alcohol content (BAC) is over 0.08% then the jury can infer the defendant was under the influence of alcohol.
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If you are found guilty by a jury or you plead guilty of BUI, the penalties vary. BUI 1st is a misdemeanor and carries a sentence of between 48 hours and 30 days imprisonment, a fine, or community service. You will also lose boating privileges for 6 months and have to complete a boater safety class.
If you are convicted of a BUI 2nd, the judge can sentence you to imprisonment for up to a year, issue a fine for up to $5,000, boating privileges will be suspended for a year, and a boating safety course will be required.
BUI 3rd carries the stiffest penalties. A BUI 3rd carries penalties of up to 3 years in jail, $6,000 in fines, 2 years boating suspension, and a boater safety course.
If the operator of a boat is intoxicated and causes “great bodily injury” to another – that is “bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.”- then the boater can be sentenced to up to 15 years in jail and up to $10,000 fine.
A boater under the influence of drugs or alcohol who causes the death of another can be sentience up to 25 years in jail and fined up to $20,000.
Reckless Homicide by Operation of a Boat
This occurs when a boat operator acts “in reckless disregard of the safety of others” and his or her actions result in the death of another. The penalties are both jail time and significant fines.
What to Do if Stopped by Law Enforcement on the Water
The first rule of boating is safety. The waterways are unpredictable, so it’s important to remain clear headed. Do not run the risk by drinking too much to safely operate your boat.
If you do have too many drinks and you are stopped by law enforcement on the water, comply. There are, however, things you can do. After are under arrest, you can ask for a lawyer. You can explain you don’t want to comment further until you have had a chance to consult with your lawyer. In addition, you can decline a breathalyzer.
Bottom line – If you are arrested for BUI or any other boat related accident, obtain a lawyer. The earlier the better because there is much a lawyer can do to help. For starters, a lawyer will advise you your rights. Moreover, lawyers are adept at investigating cases to determine a course of action.